Monday, July 25, 2011

Some Things Are Worth Repeating: Ground-Level Rail Transit Here Would Be an Expensive Disaster

The drumbeat cadence pounded out by Honolulu’s doomrailers continues in the media. Cliff Slater has another post at Hawaii Reporter repeating his familiar arguments, all of which have been addressed by the City’s response to Slater’s lawsuit.

A letter in the Star-Advertiser today restates the familiar: “If we must have rail, make it ground-level light rail, which would be much less costly and quieter than the elevated system being promoted.”

The assertion that at-grade rail would be preferable to elevated is wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin, but we will begin by repeating the rail project’s fundamental objective – to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe transportation through the east-west urban corridor.

Those four attributes describe the end result of accomplishing rail’s four goals, which we won’t repeat but were fully described here on January 3. Imagine building an at-grade system through Honolulu’s dense corridor while not reducing or eliminating street lanes for vehicular use. You wouldn’t want to "rob Peter to pay Paul" by laying a rail line onto (and thereby eliminating) existing traffic lanes. That would frustrate mobility.

At-Grade’s True Costs

By building an at-grade line next to existing lanes, the property condemnation cost would be enormous. Scores of businesses would be disrupted and taken for such a scheme, so the letter-writer’s imagined “less costly” project is a pipedream.

We’ve posted numerous photographs showing rail-related accidents in cities (like Phoenix, at right) where transit runs at ground level, and if anything, we could expect Honolulu’s motorists – with virtually no experience negotiating rail crossings – to crash even more often. If safety is consideration #1, think elevated rail. (Be sure to read the comment below this linked post.)

Since crashes reduce reliability, at-grade rail would be less attractive to drivers who might otherwise switch to transit to shorten their commute times.

Finally, at-grade transit in Honolulu would be slow transit, as we’ve outlined in other posts. Compared to elevated rail’s anticipated 55-plus-mph speed between stations, surface-level light rail simply could not compete.

If you were to grade the two options on their ability to achieve Honolulu rail's four goals, ground-level light rail would receive an F and the elevated system an A. Doomrailers and those they are trying to influence can’t ignore the comparison.

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